Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Change Management Methodology (Strategy execution methodologies series. Post 4)

“Business is a machine made out of people” Bill Duane.

In Post 1 of this series, we established that strategy is “just another good idea” until it is implemented and churning out results, and that there is no single turnkey methodology for executing strategy. In Posts 2 and 3, we turned our attention to the “go to” methodology—project management—and explored the two dominant project management methodologies: The Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) approach and PRINCE2. In this post, we’re going to look at change management and how it’s deployed.

Change management addresses the human risks in strategy execution. When existing staff have to think about their jobs differently (learn new competencies, demonstrate different behaviors and mindsets), the rate at which they adopt and perform the change will dramatically impact success.

Think about the leap from order-taking to creating a competitive customer experience or from cable service operator to integrated communications provider. Maybe the market has shifted seismically due to legislation (e.g., health care reform) or a new substitute in the market (digital in the newspaper world).

The organization must make a strategic shift but, as my friend Bill Braun would remind me, there really isn’t any such thing as “the organization” is there?

The people must make the shift.

First, what is “Change Management”?  Simple question, no?

Actually this is not a simple question. There are two emerging international associations representing change management. The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) recently released this definition:

  • “ACMP defines change management to be the application of knowledge, skills, abilities, methodologies, processes, tools, and techniques to transition an individual or group from a current state to a desired future state, such that the desired outcomes and/or business objectives are achieved. Change management processes, when properly applied, ensure individuals within an organization efficiently and effectively transition through change such that the organization’s goals are realized. Change management is an integral part of the overall change process and ideally begins at the onset of change. ACMP’s definition assumes that the organization has agreed upon the need for change and has identified the nature of the change.”

The Change Management Institute (CMI) does not offer a definition of change management but does offer a definition of a Change Management Practitioner and a “Competency Model”:

  • “A Change Management Practitioner has mastery of the change principles, processes, behaviours, and skills necessary to effectively identify, manage, initiate, and influence change, and manage and support others through it”.

The real key here is that change management is NOT the broader, perhaps more intuitive, notion of managing change (e.g., strategy, business case, planning, budget, scope, timeline, metrics).

Instead, change management focuses narrowly on the facilitation of people from the current state to the desired state. It deals with expediting three things: understanding, commitment, and alignment, which helps people change the way they think about their roles, leave behind current mindsets and competencies, and dive into new thinking and build new capability. Many leaders rely on a few tactics to tell their people what’s changing and expect that they will comply. In transformational change, this inevitably falls short. We adults are just not wired for change.

A word on history

The history of change management is really not well documented. (Currently, for example, Wikipedia is remarkably weak on this.) Most histories track early thought leadership back to Kurt Lewin and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Various LinkedIn discussions that ask members to identify books or methodologies come up with a wide array of answers. Some of the perennial thought leaders include: Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson, William Burke, William Bridges, Daryl Conner, John Kotter, Peter Senge, and Edgar Schein.

How is change management deployed?

Some large organizations have established roles such as “Director, Change Management” or “VP, Global Change Management”. Some have established centres of excellence and/or communities of practice to further nurture this capability. However, in many organizations today, change management is under the purview of Human Resources and Organization Development, often specifically under Organizational Effectiveness.

“Change management” also appears as a required competency on position descriptions at all levels (even though few can describe what this means and fewer still take any specific training on it).

Increasingly, it is also deployed within initiatives, often set up as a work stream within a project, to address behaviour and mindset change. Leaders play important roles, with specific responsibilities, as sponsors. Change Management specialists, analysts or managers evaluate “readiness”, identify resistance, and design and implement interventions designed to increase speed and depth of adoption.

Strategic deployment sees change management in all of these places, tailored to the organization’s current challenges. 

Change Management Methodologies

Two cautionary notes:

  1. Not all “methodologies” are “equal”. There are many, many models and frameworks on change. Many have been developed out of deep PhD work. Some have come out of applied behavioural science, some from industrial psychology and some from systems thinking. All have value. A good reference for many of these is “Organization Change: Theory and Practice” by W. Warner Burke. However, these should only be deployed by the most advanced practitioners—they require deep academic knowledge to be interpreted accurately. This list is not about those.  It is a rare practitioner who has both academic muscle and pragmatic business experience.  This list is about pragmatic, systemic methodologies that are more accessible to the average organization. While many of the methodologies below are built upon the important and insightful work of research, they are systematized. Some are built for new practitioners working on moderate, transitional change and others for seasoned professionals dealing with transformation.
  2. Methodology is no substitute for an experienced change agent. This is high risk, complex and dynamic work. It is often messy―despite our best work it is often unpredictable and fraught with dysfunctional behavior. While methodology is an important component of change management capability it is not the only one, and perhaps not even the most important one. A seasoned change agent who can make sense of the noise using these and other tools is the most important asset.

Most change management methodologies follow the same basic steps and tools:

  • Assess readiness of leaders, agents, and change targets (specific to their ability to execute and adopt the change).
  • Assess impacts of the change on roles, processes, and organizational capability. (This can go so far as to include workflow, organization design, position specifications, and compensation.)
  • Recommend interventions to address gaps.
  • Execute interventions.
  • Track metrics to determine whether adoption is tracking as required. If not, design and implement new interventions. Repeat until successful.

The two methodologies that I am most familiar with, that integrate change management into execution, are:

Other methodologies include:

Interestingly, leadership at IMA, LaMarsh, and Changefirst have all worked with Daryl Conner through ODR, either as employees, clients, or business associates.

All of these methodologies are proprietary. Access is gained by buying books, training courses, and licenses and/or by retaining consultants on projects. Of course, most consulting firms have an approach. These are rarely, if ever, offered as standalone—they are built into consulting solutions. And, of course, dozens of consultants offer their own variations on the above methodologies. Some are innovating known approaches and producing some very interesting and important advancements.

Of note, many might reference Professor John Kotter’s work, including “Leading Change”. I found the principles to be very influential early in my learning. However, in my experience, the publicly available material is not designed for initiative application. In fact, at the last ACMP conference (2012) one of the most interesting slides that Randy Ottinger, EVP, Kotter International shared was: “Guiding Principles + Change Management”. On a related note, some might also argue that “change leadership” is different from “change management”—my point of view on that is here.

So, what is missing? Why is the failure rate of transformational change still so high?

The failure rate of transformational change continues to be abominable despite a few decades of change management to effect improvement (our chairman’s point of view on this here). Seventy percent is the failure rate most commonly quoted[1] and, more recently, IBM’s research pegged the number at 59% globally (i.e., only 41% of projects fully met their objectives).[2]

Regardless of the exact number, the order of magnitude is completely unacceptable.

So far in this series, we have looked at project management and change management. So, if we put them together we have a complete Strategy Execution Methodology, right? Well, first, that’s not so easy. And second—no, there are still gaps!

What are the gaps and what does a holistic solution look like? Subscribe (top left) to ensure you get the last post in this series.


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Related Posts:

[1] “Success Rates for Different Types of Organizational Change”, Martin E. Smith, PhD, Performance Improvement, Volume 41, Number 1, January 2002.

[2] “Making Change Work: Closing the Change Gap”, IBM Global Change Management Study, Global and Canadian FS Results, IBM Global Business Services, June 26 2012.

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Well written. Insightful. Thought provoking, as always.

Comment by Faith Fuqua-Purvis

Thanks Faith! Love your 15-word definition of Change Management also

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Nice article. Regarding the bit about failure rate for me this is not so much about a methodology more about the calibre and competency of the people who perport to be Change Managers and who clearly are anything but.

Comment by Ron Leeman

Hi Ron! Thanks so much for reading and taking time to comment. You know from our previous exchanges that I agree with you on the importance of stellar Change Agents (and I have another post coming up in a couple of weeks I would love your comments on “Top 10 competencies of Change Agents”).

However, I think there are arguments to be made for good process. Even the best Agents benefit from solid process – it provides some transparency (inspiring some early credibility and earning some latitude). And, equally importantly in large lumbering initiatives, it allows for integration with other processes. Yes, we know that change is dynamic and therefore change management will at times deploy reactive interventions but this is not rocket science we should be able to describe it to our initiative colleagues in both theoretical and practical ways.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Great post…”encyclopedic” re: change in just a few words. I firmly believe you hinted at the most important part of “What’s Missing” in your 2nd Cautionary Point, above: What’s missing is leadership–not more process.

Comment by tvannest

Thanks Todd. More coming in Post 5 🙂

Comment by Gail Severini ©

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